GRAND RAPIDS — Although a report issued in 2006 by a Kent County corrections and detention committee said another 1,616 beds would be needed at the jail in 2020, members of that committee also realized that voters would be unlikely to support an increase in the corrections millage to pay for a new lockup.
To do that the current millage of .7893 mills would have to be hiked by .2107 mills in order to reach the 1 mill mark, a levy that would generate $24.7 million in 2011 and allow the county to proceed with expanding the jail to meet its expected demand for future bed space.
But with that proposal off the table, county commissioners are all but certain to decide this week to put the existing millage up for a renewal vote on Aug. 5 for another 20 years. Should voters renew it, their taxes wouldn’t be raised and the county would receive about $17 million in revenue for 2011 from the millage.
“This millage would be used to construct a new pod and eliminate the old portion,” said Daryl Delabbio, Kent County administrator and controller.
The old portion Delabbio referred to was first built in the 1950s and then added on to in the 1970s. It houses slightly more than a third of the beds at the jail, which averaged about 1,300 inmates a day in 2006. But Delabbio also said a renewal wouldn’t guarantee a bed-to-bed exchange in replacing the old concrete section that Sheriff Larry Stelma said houses the “worst of the worst” offenders.
“In terms of a three- to five-year time period, this (amount) is adequate,” said Delabbio.
Getting to the number of beds the committee recommended two years ago might not be attained by expanding the jail but by building a regional correctional facility in tandem with Allegan and Kalamazoo counties. Kent entered into an agreement with those two counties earlier this year to determine if one could be built and if it would offer some cost savings.
“We have to be smart about how we run our business and sustain our operation. So we think a regional jail could be one of the opportunities to leverage resources and minimize our expenses as a result of the benefits from such a collaboration,” said Wayman Britt, an assistant county administrator.
Before the county’s Legislative Committee approved the renewal’s ballot date last week, members rejected an amendment proposed by Commissioner Brandon Dillon. Dillon suggested adding language to the resolution that would have the county settle the per-diem-fee scrap it has with the five cities that send arrestees to the jail before the millage goes to voters.
“I think putting it in the resolution will help us get this done,” he said of getting the levy approved.
The county charges Grandville, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming $47.80 a day to house each inmate those cities send to the jail, along with a one-time arrest charge of $20.08. Administrators for the cities feel the countywide millage should cover those costs and the per-diem charge should be dropped.
Dillon and Commissioner Carol Hennessy expressed their concerns that the renewal request might fail without strong support coming from those cities.
“The issue is being addressed and doesn’t need to be included,” said Commissioner Marvin Hiddema of the amendment.
“I don’t think we can mandate negotiations,” added Commissioner David Morren.
Voters first approved the corrections millage in 1990, which built two new pods at the jail that added 363 beds to the facility. This year revenue from the millage makes up 43 percent of the jail’s $37 million operating budget. The current millage expires at the end of next year.
“That portion of the facility houses the worst of the worst. We’re really talking about a different inmate here,” said Stelma of the section the county wants to replace. “We’re going to have to house them somewhere.”